Last Update 8/31/07


Unrest (2006)

The After Dark Horrorfest is a series of independent horror films, otherwise unrelated to one another.  This particular one deals with a female medical student who is about to work on her first cadaver.  Her particular subject is a woman who mutilated and killed herself, which suggests well in advance that something very strange is going to happen.  The protagonist has a very adverse reaction to her first sight of the corpse, but recovers and proceeds with the early stages of the dissection.  She is part of a team of four, the others of whom don't share her uneasiness, even when she points out that the mutilations are self inflicted.

One of her teammates unwisely sneaks his fiancť into the lab for a look and she gets spooked, then brutally murdered, although it appears to be bizarre, but natural causes. There's a problem with transitions, however, because the next day none of the other team members are aware of anything out of the ordinary until some time later.  An earlier incident involving a missing technician similarly seemed to have left no ripples. The team member resigns.  Our hero consults a staff member who utters some nonsense about the human mind being too primitive to understand the answers to the questions it asks.  She then risks her career trying to trace the dead woman's origins.  The alarm is finally raised when another attendant is found dead in a cadaver tank.

Unfortunately, the script begins to slide even further.  The bereaved student is accused of murder even though the medical evidence proves otherwise.  He promptly goes insane. Then the missing technician turns up, dead.  The dead woman turns out to be a schizophrenic serial killer who believed herself possessed. More death and mutilation follows as they discover the dead woman uncovered an ancient burial site, then killed her own child as a sacrifice.  Crazy guy commits suicide, but leaves a note that suggests she is next.  The climax involves an attempt to fish the dead body out of a tank, which holds another murder victim, and a now slightly animate corpse.  Not surprisingly, they get trapped inside.  This was reasonably good and could have been quite good with a little added work on the script and some editing here and there. The final scenes are a bit over the top as well.  The corpse which hasn't bled for the first hour now does so profusely when its dismembered pieces are dragged through a corridor.  Why?  How, for that matter?  8/31/07

The Black Cat (2007)

This installment of the Masters of Horror series, directed by Stuart Gordon, is supposedly based on the story of the title, although considerable liberties have been taken.  Jeffrey Combs does one of his best jobs as Edgar Allan Poe, and the sets are nicely done, but the story wanders somewhat aimlessly at first.  Eventually Poe's wife's tuberculosis results in an over the top blood coughing sequence and the real story finally starts.  From there we go through a series of scenes, some of which are apparently hallucinations, some of which involve their pet black cat, but the story is so disjointed and drawn out that I lost interest half way through and watched the rest from a sense of duty.  8/29/07

Eragon (2006)

I read this book a while ago and can remember nothing of it except that it was very derivative.  I don't think it was as unremittingly bad as the movie version, but it might have been.  The movie opens with a prologue explaining - sort of - how the evil king killed off all the dragon riders and became dictator of the world.  The story gets underway with a young woman stealing something that the ruler wants back, during which she encounters a simple country boy whose life will be changed.  Luke Skywalker, I mean, the young hero finds the artifact after Princess Leia, I mean the girl, uses magic to get rid of it as she falls into the clutches of Darth Vader, oops, I mean the king's sorcerous lieutenant who uses the power of the force of darkness to question her.  Did I mention that Eragon, our hero, is an orphan anxious to leave the uncle who raised him?

The stolen object turns out to be a dragon egg from which, in due course, there hatches a dragon. This causes a disturbance in the force, so the sorcerer is sent to track down the boy linked to the dragon.  The dragon grows up one day - yes, in one day - and bonds with the boy against a backdrop of mediocre special effects, and we learn that the dragon - who is telepathic - is named Saphira.  The flying scenes are particularly inept.  Anyway, the uncle gets killed by creatures searching for the dragon, after which Eragon paraphrases Luke Skywalker regretting that he wasn't there to help. Then he finds an old, experienced warrior who has been living a simple life to avoid raising suspicion.

A series of peculiarly dull adventures and fights follow, often too dark to really see what's going on, usually too uninteresting for it to matter.  Anachronistic phrases, bad acting, misguided attempts at humor, and disappointing special effects add up to a really bad movie.  Jeremy Irons isn't awful, but he doesn't have much material to work with here. John Malkowich is completely wasted as the evil king.  8/26/07

Dead Silence (2007)

There was a sale on used DVDs and this one had a few familiar names in the cast, so I figured it was worth taking a look.  It starts off pretty well, nice credits, then a young couple receives a mysterious, rather repulsive doll delivered to their door and first mention is made of the legend of Mary Shaw, a boogeywoman from the town's past who supposedly had lots of dolls and was dangerous.  While the husband is out, the wife is killed during an effectively creepy sequence, her body bizarrely mutilated.  Although he's the prime suspect, the police don't have enough to arrest him, and he heads back to his home town after finding a reference to Mary Shaw on the dummy.

The town is a wreck.  Stores are closed, the street are full of litter, and there are few people about.  Our hero goes to the family estate where he meets his new, young stepmother and visits the father from whom he is estranged.  The wife's body is sent to the undertaker, whose wife has a habit of hiding in a sub-basement.  After a few more creepy events, the undertaker tells the story of Mary Shaw, a ventriloquist.  When a child heckled her performance, he disappeared a few weeks later, and then she was murdered as well and buried, per her wishes, with all of her dolls, and only after her body was transformed into a doll as well.

The plot has a couple of hiccoughs.  I doubt that there could have been dozens of mutilation killings in a small town over a period of years without attracting considerably publicity.  There's a convenient rowboat in good repair available for our hero to use to visit the crumbling theater where Shaw made her last performance.  That said, this was still a pretty effective chiller, reasonably well acted and with some nice stage setting and makeup.  8/24/07

Ghost Rider (2007)

Nicholas Cage stars in this adaptation of the Marvel comic, not one of my favorite comics and I wasn't expecting anything particularly interesting in the scream adaptation.  A young man sells his soul to the devil to cure his father of a fatal disease and Peter Fonda as the devil almost makes up for the decidedly slow start.  And naturally his father dies in an accident the same day he is cured, fulfilling the letter of the bargain, but leaving our hero with a decided grudge against Satan.  And so he grows up to be Nicholas Cage, supporting himself doing motorcycle stunts, which we learn in a series of badly jumbled scenes.

Another mysterious characters shows up, with a touch that turns hearts to ice, literally, so we can sort of assume that he and Cage, Johnny Blaze that is, are opposing forces.  The bad guy is looking for a stolen contract, and to do this he enlists three supernatural beings who appear to be elementals, one composed of earth, one of water, and one of air, or gas. Cage is obviously the fire elemental. The bad guy - Blackheart - is an evil angel, son of Satan, but not a fallen one, and the devil doesn't like him, but can't touch him except through his agent, the Ghost Rider.  Unfortunately, none of the four chief villains have any charisma, and the frequent shots of repulsive men cheering the bike stunts doesn't help either. Efforts to humanize Blaze - he likes the Carpenters and monkeys and the girl friend he jilted is now a sport reporter - don't help much.

Anyway, the devil gives him a magical cycle and the ability to burst into flame when he's pissed off.  He's supposed to find Blackheart, which he does with no transition at all, and they have their first rather silly fight, accompanied by a particularly annoying soundtrack. After dispatching one of the bad guys, he transforms back to normal and a graveyard worker tells him he's the devil's bounty hunter, fated to pursue those who escape from Hell, although he can regain his soul by completing the mission.  Then he gets arrested in a sequence that is actively stupid - no probable cause, no attorney, no monitoring of the police holding cells, no response when the fire sprinkler system goes off.  I stopped caring after this point because it was obvious the script writer was contemptuous of his audience.

Part of my problem with the movie, and the original comic, and a lot of stories is that I don't buy the concept that a good person who sells his/her soul for noble reasons, or simply because they believed it to be a joke, can thereby be damned.  It implies to me that good and evil aren't distinct attributes, but that the whole thing is just a game.  The rest of my problem with the movie is that it's poorly paced, there are plot jumps that are unsettling, the characters have no more depth than the comic book versions, and the few cute jokes can't save the day.  There are even moments when the film parodies itself, not successfully.  8/24/07

We All Scream for Ice Cream (2007)

Another in the Masters of Horror series, this one from a creepy John Farris story, adapted by David Schow. The opening is a little confusing.  A boy turns his father into ice cream by eating some, then we flash to the funeral, where apparently no one has noticed anything out of the ordinary.  For some reason, the widow seems to blame one of the surviving members of her husband's circle of friends, which extends back to childhood. It is also strangely cold from time to time.  Then we hear that the dead man is the second member of the group to disappear, leaving only his clothing behind.  But if that's the case, why does anyone assume they're dead?

Next we see the weird looking ice cream truck driven by a sinister clown, and the kids in the area who seem to be hypnotized by its presence.  A flashback provides the motive.  As kids, they played a practical joke that ended with the death of the retarded man who drove the local ice cream truck. The bully who started the plot doesn't have a kid, so he figures he's safe since he has no children, but our hero is soon the only one left otherwise and he has both a son and a daughter.  Except he's wrong.  Apparently he has an illegitimate daughter he didn't know about, and next thing we know, he's been turned into a puddle of ice cream like all the others.  It's the usual revenge beyond the grave story, and a bit slow at times, but there are some really creepy bits too. 8/23/07

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

I had just recently re-read the short story by Rudyard Kipling and realized I'd never seen the film version, so I rectified the situation, particularly after discovering that Michael Caine and Sean Connery, two of my favorite actors, starred as the two fortune hunters. The opening scenes stick pretty closely to the story, even using some of the same dialogue, although the motivations are a bit different.  The twosome encounter a journalist, Kipling in the movie, unnamed in the story, who hears of their plan to blackmail a local Indian ruler and arranges for them to be arrested and expelled from the area, particularly after hearing that they plan to represent themselves as journalists.

The two conmen show up at Kipling's office to research Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan, where they plan to use their military training to impress and eventually supplant a local ruler.  To get there, they masquerade as a mad priest and his servant, carrying a load of modern rifles in their baggage.  They get themselves established after several adventures, and there's a great scene where they are about to indulge in a major battle, but both sides refuse to fight until a party of priests passes across the battlefield.  The movie does rather telegraph part of the ending by having the characters discuss the possible consequences if the Kafiri discover that Dravot is not a god.  In due course, he decides to take a wife, the bride to be bites him, and the sight of his blood convinces them he is not a god after all.  End of scam and they're running for their lives.  Classic adventure and a perfect example of one's reach exceeding one's grasp.  8/22/07

My Name Is Modesty (2003)

A year or so ago I read the Modesty Blaise books, after which I tracked down the lone film made from them, which was a pretty dramatic disappointment.  I only recently discovered this new take and I had no idea what to expect, but I figured it couldnít be as bad as the last, so why not give it a try.  Blaise, if youíre unfamiliar with her, is a kind of female James Bond, except that sheís an ex-criminal mastermind herself, lately reformed, more or less.  The screenplay is based on the character, sort of, rather than any of the actual stories, which is a shame because there are some neat villains in several of them.  The movie also changes her background.  Sheís an orphan raised by a casino owner in this one, eventually his bodyguard, but he gets killed anyway and she wants revenge.  Her sidekick, Willie Garvin, isnít in the movie at all, leading to the obvious question of why they bothered to call this a Modesty Blaise movie in the first place.

Alexandra Staden does a reasonably good job as Modesty, but is unexceptional, and the rest of the cast is barely adequate. Thugs take over the casino but cannot get into the vault without her help.  While they wait for someone to arrive with the code, Modesty and the chief thug engage in mind games and lengthy, often boring conversations, interspersed with flashbacks to her less than idyllic childhood.  The movie lacks not only the real characters from the original, but even the tone is completely different.  Why spend so much of the film on a background that is totally at odds with that of the real Modesty Blaise? The character might be named Modesty Blaise, but that's not who she is.  And the movie itself is ultimately boring, even the oddly unengaging final battle. 8/14/07

The Hitcher (2006)

I haven't watched the original of this film, starring Rutger Hauer as the psychopath, in many years.  I hope it's not as stupid as this very bad remake.  The plot, if you don't already know it, is about a couple who are menaced by a murderous hitchhiker who kills everyone who stops to offer him a ride.  Sean  Bean is okay in the part, but the story is so badly done that I couldn't wait for it to be over.  The beginning is okay, with them reluctantly letting Bean into their car, then forcing him out when he pulls a knife.  The couple is never particularly appealing, which is a problem in itself, but then they begin acting so stupidly that I quickly lost interest in their fate.

They spot the bad guy in another car and try to warn the people, but in such an inept fashion that it's not surprising that they wreck their car and end up hitchhiking themselves.  When they find the slaughtered family, they take the car with the bodies and head for help because the driver is still alive.  Okay, that makes sense.  But when they reach a rest stop, do they call the police, or an ambulance, or even tell someone what happened?  No, of course not, and a suspicious attendant calls the police and they're under arrest. 

Then the killer wipes out an entire police station, off screen, so that they can escape ad continue what is apparently some twisted game.  Instead of staying locked in their cells, they make a break for freedom in another astounding display of stupidity. Naturally he knows which way they're going and drops a car off a cliff in front of them, which makes sense only if he is indeed a supernatural being. The next cop we meet is, thank heaven, intelligent enough to know they could not have acted alone, and is convinced that they weren't responsible.  They run into another police officer, but instead of using his radio to explain what's going on, they wait around until he's dead and they're suspected of another crime, as well as stealing a police car. They don't use the radio in the car either. Nor do they pull over when three police cars and a helicopter show up.

Eventually they do attempt to use the radio.  Then the bad guy shows up again, starts shooting at the police, and THEY don't use their radios either, not even the helicopter pilot, who gets shot out of the sky. You'd think by now that Hollywood would know when to leave a good thing alone.  Actually, come to think of it, you wouldn't think that at all.  Then they get a motel room, presumably because the New Mexico police - who know who they are - aren't checking the use of their credit cards, but the hitcher finds them and gets into their room without any trouble.  In the original, the girl is tied between two trucks and pulled apart.  It's the guy this time.  With a more violent and considerably more stupid ending!  8/12/07

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Soundtrack composed by Nicholas Hooper, Warner, 2007

Once again I am reminded of the difficulty of soundtracks as separate music.  The soundtrack is designed to enhance the images on the screen rather than distract from it, and sometimes the result is that when you hear the music alone, it seems inconsequential.  A few of the tracks on this one, from the recent Harry Potter movie, suffer from exactly that, although most of it is pleasant enough and a few pieces are quite nice.  The opening, "Fireworks", is nice and lively and that continues for the next couple of tracks before the more somber music that accompanied the dementors.  "Dumbledore's Army" is actually quite good, but rather short.  I would like to have heard more development of the catchy theme.  "Hall of Prophecy" and "Room of Requirement" both stand quite well on their own, as does "Ministry of Magic".  The closing track is restrained, in accordance with the plot of course.  On balance, nicely done.  I'll listen to it again, but I might skip parts.

The Dark Crystal Soundtrack composed by Trevor Jones, La-La Land Records, 2007

It has been a very long time since I last watched this movie, a fantasy adventure produced by Jim Henson's company with all muppets and no live actors.  I still remember a few scenes, including the supper that kept trying to escape, but the music was completely gone from my memory.  I could therefore listen to this soundtrack with reasonable objectivity.  It opens with a lush, Hollywood style piece that is not unpleasant but which felt almost generic. The second track is obviously matched to a more suspenseful scene.  Two very brief and unmemorable bits follow but Track 5, "The Funerals", is particularly nice, as is "The Pod Dance".  The remaining tracks are all pleasant to listen to but less remarkable. It did leave me mildly tempted to watch the movie again.  8/3/07

Shadow Puppets (2007)

James Marsters, Jolene Blalock, and Tony Todd lead the cast in this suspense thriller, although Todd shows up late.  Several people wake up in an otherwise empty but secure mental institution with no memory of how they got there.  In fact, they don't even remember their own names. The opening is vaguely reminiscent of the Saw movies without the immediate violence, which I didn't take as a good sign.  We meet Blalock first, whose is promptly terrified by loud, bestial growling, although she doesn't see anything except lights that go on and off.  But her door is mysteriously unlocked and she's free to venture out into the corridors.  She finds Marsters first, then two others, both of whom have the same memory loss.

They explore and find enigmatic equipment but find no exit and no explanations, occasionally pausing when the mysterious growling echoes through the pipes. One couple find a naked woman swimming in a pool who claims to be in the same situation, but who is peculiarly unconcerned and whose shadow is distorted.  The first couple stumble upon a wrecked laboratory with a comatose man in one corner.  Prisoner six shows up a bit later, but he doesn't last long, skewered by a shadow that can apparently become material.  Blalock has some residual memory of medical science, and my opening theory was that they were the doctors who experimented with the comatose man, perhaps allowing his personality to manifest itself as the shadow.  Special effects weren't bad either.

The five survivors get together, and then release Todd, who is chained in yet another cell, and a woman confined in another locked cell and restraint, but the latter only lasts a few seconds before the shadow reappears and kills her.  Eventually they discover who they are, the staff and patients of some mysterious facility, but they don't know much more afterward than they did before.  The writers resort to a cheap shortcut to tell us much of what has been going on; they find a computer terminal and one of their number gets all of the information  in a matter of seconds.  Of course, he can't come up with the important info.  The dialogue varies from okay to clever.  The acting is quite good, but the plot goes to pieces during the final third.  The explanation of the creature is silly, the surprise revelation about Marsters is jarring rather than surprising, and the fastest moving sunrise I've ever seen saves the day. 8/1/07

Fire Serpent (2007)

I knew this was from the Sci-Fi Channel so I wasn't expecting much.  It's bad enough when untalented actors perform an inept script.  It seems so much more wasteful when the actors actually have some skill.  Robert Beltran gets most of the really awful lines in this, but none of the dialogue is particularly interesting, the special effects are bad (why would a creature made entirely of fire have teeth?), and the plot premises are so pretty bad.  Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, who wrote it, should and probably do know better, but this may have been inspired by an idea from William Shatner.

The plot?  Oh, let's see.  Solar flares periodically send living fire creatures to Earth where they hop around until they are extinguished, sometimes burning people from the inside.  The government know about this, and Robert Beltran is apparently head of the agency studying them - which we all know from our Evil Government Training Classes means that they want to turn them into weapons.  But Beltran is also a religious nut, believes them to be angels, and has decided to precipitate Armageddon.  Nicholas Brendon (Xander from Buffy) is a firefight who witnesses an attack by a creature, falls into the company of a man who Knows The Truth, and is subsequently the subject of an assassination attempt by Beltran's minions.  Why they didn't just kill Fallon, the source of the information, is never explained.

The plot is full of contrivances that raise one's eyebrows and make us say Huh?  To arrest Fallon, who is unarmed and has committed no crime, they send four agents equipped with machine guns.  But technically he's been arrested by the National Fire Agency, which must have been given that authority on a day when I didn't watch the news. None of the characters show any life except the camera woman for the journalist, whom I really liked, so of course she gets killed early on.  Another sad waste of time.  7/31/07

Stealth (2005)

I pretty much knew what to expect with this retelling of the story of John Henry, the steel driving man, with a twist of Frankenstein's monster.  Three topnotch pilots in high tech aircraft open by performing one of those impressive but totally unrealistic pinpoint attacks as part of a training mission, including sending a missile into the narrow opening of a mine shaft.  The three heroes are personable if somewhat corny, but they're not happy with the new member of their squad, which supposedly includes the only three of these aircraft ever built.  The fourth is a computer controlled version, designed to prove that the human factor can be eliminated.  So John Henry, I mean, the three pilots have early obsolescence to look forward to.  The computer even talks, confuses left and right, and shows off in the air.

An unlikely situation arises, a meeting of terrorists in a building in the center of Rangoon, Burma.  The only way they could attack in time would be to risk killing thousands of innocent people.  The only alternative - suggested by the computer - is too dangerous to the pilots, who disobey a direct order to conduct the attack anyway.  They successfully launch an implosion bomb (!) which swallows the building and the terrorists.

But wait!  Lightning strikes the robot plane.  It lands successfully, but a technician notes that it appears to be writing its own code and it downloads music from the internet - illegally!  Heavens to Betsy!  Obviously it's evil.  It even sulks and eavesdrops.  Despite misgivings, the authorities send it along on a mission to strike more terrorists, this time in Tajikistan. It also appears that the military is working in a vacuum, with no reference to politicians, governmental control, etc., even though the latest strike will spread radioactive debris over a wide area including Pakistan. The office in charge of the operation issues statements to the press without checking with his superiors and no one relieves him of command even though he's only a captain.

The mission leader orders an abort, but the robot disobeys, causes a potential disaster, then announces that it's going to look for additional targets.  Apparently in Russia!  The chase is on and one of the pilots is killed, which I'd been expecting almost from the beginning of the movie.  When the robot shoots off the end of the refueling line dangling from a fuel zeppelin (which happens to be located on the Russian border!) so that it can refuel itself despite a prohibition, I laughed out loud for the first, but not the last time.  The female pilot's plane malfunctions and she CALLS IN her coordinates, as if they wouldn't have been monitoring them right from the start.  She ends up stranded in North Korea.  Apparently a mission in Tajikistan was launched from the sea of Japan rather than, say, the Bay of Bengal.  Why?  And how does a supersonic jet fly slowly enough to refuel from a dirigible? The officer then threatens to imprison the civilian developer with a life sentence in a military prison after a court martial.  Note to screen writer:  CIVILIANS ARE NOT SUBJECT TO COURT MARTIAL.

And then, believe it or not, it gets worse.  The robot and our hero are diverted to a secret base in Alaska where an attempt is made on the latter's life and efforts are made to erase the robot's memory.  The commanding officer is now revealed to be the head of a clandestine organization of some sort.  In the middle of a massive gunfight, the scientist puts the robot back together so that the pilot can use it to escape and rescue the girl he loves.  The crap keeps getting higher with each passing minute. 

Did I mention that the computer develops a conscience and renounces its previous actions?  Did I mention that when they finally decide to arrest the captain, they leave him alone long enough to contact his co-conspirators and commit suicide?  Did I mention that even though the stranded pilot is on the run when she is spotted by villagers, she is only a few hundred yards away an hour later?  Did I mention that the fugitive approaches the border post by walking down the middle of the road?  Fortunately, she's armed with one of those Hollywood machine guns that never runs out of ammo.  During the course of the movie, we've shot down three Russian aircraft in Russian space, launched serious strikes in Tajikistan and Burma, and the finale involves the destruction of a North Korean military installation. 

Everything between the action scenes is inconsequential and often silly, and many of the action scenes are implausible.  Some of the flight scenes are popcorn for the eyes, but it would be a much better movie if they just deleted all of the dialogue. The anti-technology undertones are also offensive, but the stupidities strewn throughout the screenplay are insulting.  Everyone involved with this one should be ashamed.  7/30/07

The Host (2006)

I'm not particularly familiar with Korean horror films, and the few I've seen were pretty awful, but this got some positive attention so I decided to try it. The opening seen involves an illegal, massive depositing of formaldehyde into a river, so you can sort of anticipate the revelation about the cause of whatever comes next.  Then a pair of fishermen see a tiny, mutated creature in the water.  That's prologue.  The real story begins with a pair of average Koreans, an awkward, lazy man who acts like an overgrown boy and his mildly whiney, annoying teenaged daughter.  It's hard to tell if they were originally intended that way because the dubbing, though adequate, lapses into incongruities and botched idiomatic expressions.   The sequence in the refugee center is particularly inept. They see news coverage of a body being removed from the river, but as yet we have no further suggestion of what's to come.

A large group of people spot an object hanging under a bridge, which reveals itself as a distorted kind of salamander as it drops back into the water.  They are amused rather than alarmed, tossing food into the water in an attempt to lure it back to the surface.  When they finally do, they regret it.  The creature is large, amphibious, very fast, and very hungry.  The special effects as it rampages through the park are surprisingly good, even the closeups.  As it leaves, it carries off the girl, although she's still alive when we last see her.  The government claims that the monster carries a deadly virus and the father, who touched its blood, is sent to an isolation ward with the rest of his family. Within hours, he is showing symptoms of some kind of infection, but this is apparently a red herring.

The missing girl calls from her cell phone, and her family decides to rescue her, although to do so they must first escape from government custody.  The story switches to her viewpoint in the creature's lair, or more properly speaking, its larder. She has survived by hiding in a drain pipe but cannot escape.  Her family, meanwhile, does just that, thanks to some Keystone Cops style security guards. They arrange to get rescue supplies (guns, maps, disguises, a truck) from some comic book style gangsters.  The comic relief is a bit too pervasive at this point, weakening the suspense that had been previously established.

The middle of the movie moves very slowly, with only occasional brief glances of the critter to keep us interested.  They track it down and the grandfather is killed, but there's no sign of the girl.  After another short, slow period, the aunt tracks the creature to its lair, where she is attacked, her fate undetermined until near the climax.  The plot basis is completely undermined.  An American military doctor admits (for no particular reason) that there is actually no virus at all, but his behavior contradicts his words.  The creature swallows the girl, is attacked and finally killed by the family, and she's pulled alive from its gut.  There's some very confusing stuff about using poison gas to suppress the virus, but if the virus isn't real, why did they bother?  Many of these problems may result from poor dubbing, but the creature shots made it worth watching.  7/29/07

The Giant Claw (1957)

The monster in this classic black and white giant creature movie is so funny looking that it generates more laughs than thrills. A test pilot spots a UFO, but is unable to provide any description. The authorities are discounting his report until an airliner disappears after reporting a similar sighting.  Our hero, along with the token romantic interest, is on another flight when the mysterious object appears again.  For some reason the UFO doesn't appear on radar, although it's obvious to the naked eye.  They crashland (with some pretty awful special effects) after their plane is struck by some unknown force.

The creature clearly has it in for our hero, because that night it strikes at the farm where they have taken shelter while waiting for their ride to arrive. Their host thinks he saw a legendary monster, the sight of which has made him delirious.  Supporting characters in SF films of this era were notoriously prone to nervous attacks.  Legend has it that anyone who sees the giant bird will die shortly, so we know poor Pierre hasn't got long to his last scene.  Elsewhere the bird as big as a battleship - which stays aloft without flapping its wings - attacks and destroys another plane.  A general sends someone to get the hero, threatening to put him into protective custody if he doesn't come voluntarily.  Pretty stupid plot device there, since the military cannot arrest civilians in the US without a declaration of martial law.

Fighter planes are sent to shoot it down but, like Godzilla, it's impervious to bullets and rockets and it flies fast enough to chase down and gobble up jet planes.  Nothing will bring about "the end of the big bird".  Of course not.  He has a contract on Sesame Street.  The bird's invulnerability results from its ability to generate a force field of anti-matter around itself.  Oddly, the hero questions this because matter and anti-matter explode on contact, but the scientist tells them that this is because the anti-matter is generated as a screen and that the bird itself is normal matter.  Huh?  Oh, and the bird can open the screen to let its beak and claws out during attacks.  A fallen feather tells them that the creature is made up of no element found on Earth (??) and that the bird must come from an anti-matter galaxy.

The heroine correctly guesses that the bird has come to Earth to build a nest.  The hero, a radar expert, eventually comes up with the solution, but only after a worldwide prohibition against movement outdoors is imposed by world leaders.  As if that could work!  This one is hokey even by standards of the time, but it provides a laugh or two along the way.  7/28/07

The Plague (2006)

I hadn't heard of this Clive Barker film until I happened across it at the video store.  One morning, every child in the world under the age of nine falls into a coma, a coma that lasts for ten years with no indication of the cause and no hope for a cure. Every child born during that period is similarly cut off from the outside world.  At exactly 10:00 each day, all of the children go into convulsions for a short while.  The build up is pretty good, including a creepy scene where a group of the comatose turn their heads in unison, but the very low key soundtrack put me off a bit, particularly once things start moving faster.  Then one night they all wake up, looking like fairly cleancut zombies, and set out to eliminate the adult population.

Naturally we follow some of the survivors, who observe that the children act in coordination and may have extrasensory powers.  They don't feel pain, shrug off bullet wounds, and have superhuman strength, but they can be disabled, although the rules aren't quite clear. What one learns how to do, they all know how to do, and that includes operating firearms. They capture one of the children, but they won't communicate, and there's some mystical claptrap about them having fled a world they couldn't stand to live in, only to return to save their souls by taking the souls of others. Most of what follows is predictable, and reasonably well done.  I don't get the logic of the film, however, because the reason the world is in such a bad state is because the children all went into a coma, not the other way around.  I listened to part of the commentary and it appears that the fuller explanation was cut because the studio didn't think viewers would be interested.  Sigh.  7/26/07

Creepshow 3 (2007)

I bought this before I knew that it had no connection to the two Stephen King related films.  It's the same format, individual stories in a loose frame, the frame in this case being a very bad cartoon.  The first installment has a nice though familiar premise, done poorly.  A universal remote switches a teenaged girl between realities, so that she finds herself reliving her life as a member of a Black then Hispanic family.  She breaks the format and turns up disfigured and apparently invisible.  The character is such a self centered twerp that it's hard to feel any sympathy for her. The rest of the story makes even less sense.  She gets changed into a monster and then a rabbit.  Actively stupid.

Story two has a better idea, but not much better production.  A security guard buys a broken radio that talks back to him in a sexy voice.  Eventually she drives him to commit murder, which spells his doom, but it goes on too long. There is a nice surprise twist ending but it doesn't make up for the bad acting.  Part three, about a psychopathic prostitute who picks on a vampire, is so bad it's not worth summarizing.  Part 4 has loose references to one and three. A typical mad professor announces that he's getting married, and that his life's work is also nearing completion.  His houseguests suspect that the bride to be is actually a robot, and recall his past practical jokes, decide she is a robot and cut her into pieces looking for the circuitry.  Really, really stupid.

Finally we have an outrageously offensive man who alienates a dozen people in less than five minutes.  His characterization is actually clever at times, but we know he's going to get his just desserts even before the ghost of a man he accidentally killed appears to him. All the stories are drawn together before this one is over, including the vampire and the mad scientist. There was a ghost of a good idea lost in here, but all but one of the actors was below par, the special effects were often comical, and the production values in general just didn't make the grade.  7/25/07

Pirates (1986)

Roman Polanski's send up of pirate movies stars Walter Matthau as Captain Red. It opens with Red and a companion drifting on a raft.  Supplies are short and just as Red decides to dine upon his young friend, a Spanish vessel is sighted.  They make their way aboard but are soon in the brig.  Liberated at last, they try to stir up a mutiny by dropping a rat into the soup tureen, but end up dining on it themselves instead in one of the funnier, and grosser, scenes in the movie. They are sentenced to be hanged, but the execution turns into a free for all, after which the officers are dead or captured and Captain Red is in command of the Neptune.  The ship, incidentally, is not a model and its construction consumed a big chunk of the film's entire budget.

Attempts to ransom the captives seem doomed to failure as Captain Red puts them ashore in the charge of a reluctant hostage broker.  One of the officers manages to get himself smuggled back aboard the ship inside a rum barrel and regains control of the ship, and possession of the golden throne in its hold.  Red uses a clever ruse to seize the throne from the middle of the Spanish fortress, but gets hung up on the harbor chain trying to escape, a cute but not very convincing scene.

There are some odd, missed opportunities in this one.  The elaborate ship seems underused given the expensive of building it.  More significantly, the tone varies between comedy and serious adventure almost whimsically.  The best parts are very good indeed, but others are confusing, dimly lit, and oddly claustrophobic, a tendency I've noticed in other Polanski films as well. The boy doesn't get the girl, and the two main characters end up in the same predicament in which they started.  Fun, but not consistently so. 7/21/07

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

 Sharks are perhaps the scariest animals on the planet, and theyíve been the menace in a number of horror movies and thrillers over the years, most notably in Jaws.  This comparatively recent addition isnít the greatest horror movie Iíve ever seen, but itís a pretty good one, and it breaks a couple of conventions at just the right moment to be memorable.  After a familiar preamble in which a shark attacks a pleasure boat only to be harpooned and captured by our hero, we get a quick summation of the background.  Saffron Burrows is a scientist obsessed with finding a way to reverse Alzheimers and sheís been experimenting with shark brains, funded by Samuel L. Jacksonís corporation.  The opening incident has led him to reconsider, but she convinces him to come personally to her ocean station research facility to review her work.  What he doesnít know (nor do most of her staff) is that she is performing illegal gene splicing with her living shark subjects, making them far more intelligent.   

The base only has a skeleton crew because itís the weekend, and itís a big place, with multiple levels below the water and considerable amounts of corridors and workrooms.  Thomas Jane is the shark wrangler and the only other significant cast member, but he also has a criminal record and heís wary of Jackson.  L.L. Cool provides the comic relief as the cook, who talks to his parrot a lot.  Burrows seems like the heroine type at first, but soon betrays a ruthless streak that makes her less sympathetic.  Weíre introduced to the rest of the cast, most of them surprisingly well developed in a very short period of time. 

A storm strikes just as theyíre in the middle of extracting hormones from the brain of one of the three mutated sharks.  At the same time, the other two sharks begin breaking the monitoring cameras, swimming backwards, and acting otherwise suspiciously.  The first shark suddenly overcomes the drugs in its system and attacks, biting an arm off one of the scientists.  An emergency airlift helicopter comes in despite the storm, but when the stretcher is being lifted from the operations deck, one of the shark grabs the line, causing the aircraft to crash.  A particularly impressive scene follows when one of the sharks propels the stretcher through pressure glass.  Iím not sure thatís possible, but it sure looked neat. 

With the containment ruptured, the survivors are trapped inside the station, which is still taking on water, allowing the sharks to enter as well.   What follows is mostly routine, but nicely done.  There are three instances where the film breaks the usual rules.  SPOILER ALERT.  Jackson gets to make the heroic speech when they begin to panic, uniting them to a common purpose, and then gets bitten in half in mid-sentence.  Loved it.  The bird doesnít survive.  And finally, Burrows eventually gets killed despite being the female lead.  A reasonably intelligent and innovative horror thriller. 7/20/07

Big Bad Wolf (2006)

I like the concept of werewolves in monster movies, but more often than not I'm disappointed.  There are exceptions, like An American Werewolf in London and even The Silver Bullet, but most of the time they're just the same old same old.  This one opens with a grisly attack and dismemberment, then jumps to the usual bunch of young people about to set off on a trip to a cabin for some sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  The acting isn't bad, but it's not noticeably good either.  One of the six is pledging the fraternity run by the other two, and all three have girlfriends along.  They get lost, ask directions, and disregard warnings that "you don't want to go there". 

Usually this is followed by the slow, methodical death of all but the stars, but the werewolf kills four of the six in one rapid sequence, spouting bad jokes as he does so.  The two survivors make it to the police where they claim it was a large, unidentified animal, since no one would ever believe the truth.  They suspect (and we know) that the boy's stepfather is the werewolf, and in fact he goes through partial changes at very inconvenient moments, without giving it away.  He does discover that the two kids are conspiring with an uncle to prove that he's the killer.

The killing is generally over the top, but the acting was good enough to keep me watching.  Uncle gets offed and the twosome have a fight just when they most need to have an ally.  The climax is unlikely but not badly done.  Wolf guy kidnaps the girl and takes her to the cabin, just as an amateur newscaster and four companions show up to do an illicit documentary.  Our hero sneaks in under cover of the slaughter and eventually he and his girlfriend prevail.  Some nicely twisted humor is mixed in with the gore.  Not great art, but a lot of fun. 7/19/07

It!: The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

This remains one of my favorite of the 1950s space monster movies, with Marshall Thompson starring as the leader and sole survivor of the first expedition to Mars.  The second expedition is bringing him home as a prisoner, but they unwisely disregard his story of a monster that attacked his crew and leave the own airlock open for long enough to take on a stowaway.  There's some brief interaction among the characters, but not enough to distract us from the real action, and one of the new crew disappears aboard the ship shortly after takeoff.  Even worse, one of the searchers comes up missing only a few minutes later.

When Alien appeared, the obvious similarities were pointed out, and I very much suspect that memories of this old classic lingered in the minds of that generation of film makers.  The creature is practically invulnerable, moves through the air vents, and eliminates the crew one by one despite efforts to restrict him to a limited portion of the ship.  The scene where one of the crewmen is attacked in an air shaft is particularly close in both films.  This one was too early for either of the two female characters to play the hero, however, and it's up to Marshall Thompson to find the solution.  Open an airlock and expose the creature to airless space.  Sound familiar?  7/18/07

Children of Men (2006)

My favorite living mystery writer, P.D. James, took a side trip into dystopian SF in this novel, set in 2027, almost twenty years after the last human birth.  Society is falling apart, there are armed soldiers in the streets, and immigrants are being deported in mass numbers.  Religious fanatics are multiplying and bizarre cults are making an appearance.  Clive Owen appears relatively uninterested and uninvolved until he is contacted by his ex-girlfriend, Julianne Moore, with an unusual request.  Michael Caine plays his friend and, as always, elevates the movie by his very presence, brief though it is. It was also nice to hear a cut from King Crimson included in the soundtrack.

Owen finds himself trying to help a pregnant woman, possibly the only one in the entire world, whose condition may hold the secret to the continuation of the human race.  The job is complicated by the fact that he has been identified as one of the "terrorists" involved in a shootout with police, the same battle in which Moore's character is killed.  The underground protecting her seems to be just as repressive as the government, so Owen spirits the girl away from them.  The action scenes are separated by more tranquil scenes that sometimes descend into melancholy, and often seem to be just a beat too long. The dialogue also tends to be set lower than the rest of the soundtrack, which has an almost soporific effect at times.  The last portion of the film, in which they're trying to escape from a prison camp, is just relentlessly depressing and goes on far too long to be effective.

Despite the note of hope at the end, this is not a cheery film, and the implication is that pretty much everyone will descend into irrational, barbaric, violent behavior given an apparently hopeless situation.  The film makes its points, then beats them to death by repeating them over and over again.  Some nice parts, but this could have used some heavy editing.  7/17/07

The Breed (2005)

Five young adults find themselves on a remote island with a pack of mutant dogs in this not-too-bad horror film.  The opening is the obligatory sequence in which another couple wanders in, with scenes of the ditzy blonde being dragged off by creatures we donít see, presumably to be eaten.  The newcomers have to be on a different part of the island, however, because they do fine for a while, long enough for us to be able to tell them apart and understand some of the rivalries among them.  The tension picks up a bit when they find a puppy, but the puppy develops an attitude problem. 

One of the women gets bit by a dog, and begins to exhibit unusually aggressive behavior. A few hours later, thereís no secret, a pack of dogs kills one man and chases the group back to the house where one of our heroes ineptly manages to shoot Michelle Rodriguez instead of the dogs with his little bow and arrow.  The dogs chew through the line holding their seaplane, stranding them, and naturally no one has a cell phone that works.  Most of what follows is plausible, although it never seems to occur to any of them that it might be more to the point to try to kill the dogs than to find an immediate escape from the island (except for the one with the bow, they donít even try to arm themselves) and the sequence in which some of the dogs get into the basement wasnít very convincing. 

The four survivors, two of them injured, are now barricaded in a house, but the barricade suffers multiple failures Ė also implausible Ė and they retreat to the attic.  They manage to get an abandoned car running, but now theyíre down to three.  The climax comes when they reach the abandoned genetics laboratory where the dogs were being illegally bred. They manage to get to a boat, but using a method which is unnecessarily dangerous and time consuming.  There are several plot holes and unanswered questions.  Where did the scientists go?  Why does no one have any working communications equipment? Add the silly surprise ending and you get an unremarkable but marginally competent horror film. 7/15/07

Epic Movie (2006)

 I wasnít expecting much from this, but Iím a sucker for spoof movies so when it showed up real cheap, I sprung for the $5.  It opens with a pretty silly takeoff on the museum sequence from The Da Vinci Code, followed by an even less funny bit set in a Mexican orphanage, whose origin I couldnít figure out.  Snakes on a Plane is next, but the original was almost as funny, and then an X-Men spoof, the best of the opening segments.  These four segments introduce the four main characters, who are all to be sent on an epic adventure, which opens with a scene borrowed from Willy Wonka.   The foursome then find a magic portal to the land of Gnarnia, where they meet Aslo, the lionman. 

The Gnarnia spoof starts okay but soon descends into protracted and unfunny nonsense.  Gross outs are not a substitute for humor, particularly when not done sparingly.  The MTV references donít work either.  From there we move to Harry Potter, during which one of their number manages to wipe out the staff of Hogwarts.  The Jack Sparrow imitator in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequence does a fair Johnny Depp impression, but the drifts into rap routines had become positively annoying by this point.  With passing references to Superman Returns, Borat, James Bond, Mel Gibson, and Star Wars, none of which are the least bit funny.  Like I said, I wasnít expecting very much, and I got less than I expected.  The outtakes are better than the parts they kept. 7/14/07

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

 Went to see this one at the theater, trying to escape the heat.  I was a bit concerned that Bruce Willis might be getting long in the tooth for this sort of thing, but he pulled it off reasonably well, and things move so fast that itís hard to pay attention to details like that.  The premise Ė that a superhacker and his crew could undermine the entire superstructure of the US computing system Ė is plausible enough, although a few details struck me as questionable.  Can you really upload a virus onto a computer through a chat room and use that virus to set off an explosive device inside the computer (I assume that was the source of the explosions that kill all but one of a group of hackers)?  Could the entire financial records of the US be downloaded onto a single hard drive?   

Anyway, Willis is sent to pick up a hacker for questioning, saves him from a very professional hit squad, then arrives in the middle of chaos as the traffic and communications control systems go haywire.  The two of them are promptly on the run from helicopters full of gunmen and a mastermind who can even turn their own resources Ė including military aircraft Ė against them.  Meanwhile, Willisí estranged daughter is caught in an elevator and then held prisoner by the bad guys to try to put pressure on the relentless cop, but naturally it doesnít work.  Spectacular special effects, some bits of snappy dialogue, and a very good supporting cast disguise the comic book style action and our heroís unlikely survival, let alone triumph. The chief villain lacks the stature of the first and third in the series, but his chief assistant, played by Maggie Q, helps fill the gap. Popcorn for the eyes, but Iíll watch it again when the DVD comes out.  7/13/07

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Obviously I saw this on opening day.  I had been a little concerned because there was an awful lot of story in this particularly volume in the series, and I had already seen a couple of advance reviews that indicated that the movie was so condensed that it was hard to follow.  On the contrary, it was condensed enough that it was easy to follow.  Purists might protest that so much was left out, but what remains is a fairly well fleshed in skeleton that moves the story steadily forward and prepares the stage for the final two installments in the series. 

For those who haven't read the book, the set-up is that despite Harry's assertion that the evil wizard Voldemoort is back, no one wants to believe it.  Harry is in disrepute, as is his mentor, Dumbledore, and only his closest friends are willing to stand by him.  Complicating matters is the arrival at Hogwarts of a new teacher, who is a tool of the head-in-the-sand administration, and who soon exhibits sadistic and priggish behavior.  Alas, she gains influence and eventually displaces Dumbledore when it is feared that he is raising an army to overthrow the Ministry.  Meanwhile, Harry and his friends are organizing special defensive training classes because they are no longer allowed to learn magic in class.

The tone is darker, and so are the sets.  The special effects are as spectacular as ever.  The kids might be getting a bit old for the parts, but you won't notice.  I was particularly impressed with two newcomers to the cast, Imelda Staunton as the delightfully evil new teacher and Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood.  A nice job all around. 7/12/07

The Fountain (2006)

I had heard rumors that this was a very visually impressive film that probably lost most of its viewers very quickly because the plot, as much as there is of it, is very subtly conveyed.  I could sympathize with that quite early.  The opening scenes are all beautifully done, and I began to understand that this was a kind of spiritual quest through time and space, with Hugh Jackman seeking to save his dying wife, or his queen, or whatever depending on the scenario, by finding a cure, or the fountain of youth, or whatever was appropriate to the situation.  He and Rachel Weisz drift into and out of reality and dreams, their clothing and other aspects of their appearance changing in mid sentence, all undoubtedly very meaningful but not very helpful to the narrative part of the movie.  By the time it was done, I was glad I had watched it, but I very much doubt that I'll ever want to watch it again.  7/11/07

The Hunger (1983)

Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are partners in vampirism in this rendition of Whitley Strieber's second horror novel.  The movie opens with an artsy sequence in which they allow themselves to be picked up by a pair of swingers at a night club, then slaughter them in their apartment.  Bowie is suffering from a degenerative disorder that has affected all of Deneuve's previous partners, and this time she decides to consult a blood specialist (Susan Sarandon) to see if it can be cured.  

These aren't your typical vampires.  They lead an elegant lifestyle, playing classical music together with the assistance of a teenage neighbor.  The scene where Bowie ages dramatically while sitting in a waiting room is very nicely done.  What follows is less successful.  Deneuve decides to seduce Sarandon as her new partner, but the process is incredibly drawn out, filled with odd screen shots and images.  Sarandon resists becoming a vampire (although ultimately she fails) and somehow her blood apparently poisons Deneuve, who is also attacked by her ex-lovers, who have escaped from their imprisonment in her attack.  Most of this doesn't make a lot of sense, since they earlier said that the blood in Sarandon was identical to Deneuve's after the transition.  The book had a much better ending (and a couple of sequels).  7/6/07

Deep Rising (1998)

I really like monster movies. I even enjoy mediocre monster movies if they try something new, or are well acted, or an interesting monster, or almost any redeeming qualities at all.  But what I really like is a good monster movie, original, well acted, well scripted and edited, and with at least adequate special effects.  This story of deep sea creatures gone wild meets all of those criteria.  It stars Treat Williams and Famke Janssen, with a very strong supporting cast.  Williams and his two crewmates run shady operations at sea, but they're a little concerned about their latest contract, for a bunch of well armed thugs who want to be taken to a point in what should be empty sea.  We viewers know, because we've been shown, that there's another vessel in the area, the greatest cruise ship ever built, the Argonautica, with a full load of very rich passengers.

Famkee Janssen is a professional thief who took passage on the luxury ship, but who gets caught and locked up.  Williams is concerned by the discovery that his passengers are carrying enough torpedoes to sink a warship.  The plot thickens when someone sabotages all the systems aboard the Argonautica, including communications, leaving them dead in the water, obviously prey to the oncoming mercenaries.  Before they can rise, something from below hits the ship, causing disaster and panic to rival that of other movies of disaster at sea, with the added element that something unseen is on the ship, killing those who survived the initial impact.

When the bad guys arrive, Williams' ship is damaged by a collision with a cast off lifeboat.  They start a military type assault on the ship, planning to rob the guests, but all they find is a deserted ship and lots of wreckage.  Janssen escapes, but runs into the intruders, after which they find the ship's owner and its captain, still alive and locked in the vault.  He tells them the ship has been boarded by creatures while elsewhere two of the bad guys get killed, leaving Williams and his crewmate free, at least for the moment.  The two parties converge, but there's no safety in numbers.

I'm not going to say anything more about the plot, which is obviously about their efforts to stay alive and get away from the infested ship.  Great dialogue, the humor worked in to the scary parts smoothly and believably, and the creatures are marvelously designed, almost pretty in a macabre way.  They even kill off at least one character whom we would normally expect to see survive. Heartily recommended. 7/5/07

Mind Hunters (2004) 

A group of trainee FBI profilers are on their final exercise, a field trip on an island.  At least two of those involved believe that they have already failed the course.  Thereís also the instructor, Val Kilmer, and another profiler.  The team leader is Christian Slater.  Their fast task is to find the crime scene, a simulated murder.  But when they find it, an elaborate Rube Goldberg ends with the macabre death of Slater, which completely caught me by surprise since he was the big name.  On the other hand, when I stopped to think about it, why is there no emergency provision for them to reach the mainland?   

Obviously the simulation is over now, and the first priority is to get away from what they believe to be a killer from outside the group.  A bomb nearly claims victim two.  They break into the armory (an armory on a deserted island?) and find guns.  Then they are all drugged, except presumably the guilty party who is faking it.  Suspicion switches from one person to the next as more booby traps go off, killing a third and nearly two others.  Only five are left. The tricks depend on knowing who would be where in advance, which is often problematic since there is no way to anticipate what theyíll decide to do. When the cigarette machine pops out the rigged cigarette just as the woman desperate for a smoke passes,  it failed by plausibility test even though it's very effective dramatically.

They find a cryptic reference to Croatoan, the mysterious word left behind by the disappearing colony at Roanoke.   Evidence seems to point toward one of their number, but it may have been faked.  The acting is pretty good and so is the plot, but the latter should be because it was stolen wholesale from Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians.  Both involve a group of people brought to a remote island under false pretenses, both tell us that the host is not on the island although it is subsequently discovered in both cases that he is there after all.  Both involve one of the party using traps to kill off the others.  Both include one member of the party who is not who he claims to be.  In both cases, the villain is one of the characters who we thought was dead, but who faked it so that he could come back and confront the sole survivor, a female, who is then saved when one of the good guys also turns out not to be dead after all. 7/5/07 

The Saintís Girl Friday (1953) 

Louis Hayward, who appeared as the Saint in The Saint in New York in 1938, reprises the role for the last feature film appearance of that character until Val Kilmerís not very impressive recent effort.  The story opens with a car chase, but the chasee Ė a socialite - loses control and ends up dead.  With surprising ease, the Saint discovers an illegal gambling ring and a suspicious looking guardian who was managing the dead womanís inheritance.  The plot moves unusually slowly and the villains are unusually obvious, and there are a few too many coincidences to be very convincing.  Hayward is charming, of course, but he canít carry such a mediocre script, even with the nice twist at the end.  This was obviously an attempt to breathe fresh life into the series, but it failed to do so.  Nor does the title make any sense since he has no female assistant at any point in the movie. The Saint would make numerous television appearances before the 1997 film starring Val Kilmer, most successfully with Roger Moore in the title role.  7/6/07

Wolf Creek (2005)

 I came to this one with no expectations at all because I hadnít even heard of it until it turned up cheap and looked interesting.  The opening claim that it was based on a true story put me off a bit, as thatís usually code for nonsense.  A little research indicates that the screenplay was originally written before the murders in Wolf Creek (actually only one murder) and the killer bears no relationship to the one in that case, but may be modeled on another Australian serial killer.  In any case, the claim that this is taken from a true story is pretty clearly blather. 

 The Australian accent was pretty heavy in the early going but I adjusted quickly.  The fact that the three prospective victims have been acting like complete jerks doesnít endear them to the viewer particularly, and even though the acting is a lot better than one sees in most slasher films, they did nothing to make me care about their fate.  The editing didnít help.  Extended shots of a woman sucking on a toothbrush or sitting on the beach did nothing to help the story or the pacing early on.  There is some nice photography.   

Nevertheless, after the lengthy opening, the credits finally show up and I decided to forget what had gone before and consider this the real opening of the film.  The threesome have been hiking in a remote part of Australia when they find that their car has died, which throws them onto the mercy of an amiable stranger.  The bad editing continues Ė a pointless discussion of whoís going to drive, for example, that does nothing to differentiate the characters or make them more interesting.  Thereís some eerie music to warn us that this isnít just a road movie, and some of the landscapes, though beautiful, are vaguely foreboding.  Thereís the mandatory unpleasant encounter with the local badasses, lowering the already dismal tone of the movie.   

They are at lease when the bad guy shows up in another seemingly endless sequence that could have been cut by at least 50% with no loss.  The killerís friendly mask is undermined, for the viewer anyway, by more ominous music, which drains most of the suspense in the, once again, incredibly prolonged sequence in which he tows the disabled car.  It reminded me of Roddy Piperís fight sequence in They Live, which becomes actively funny, repeating similar sequences over and over again.  And still it goes on, sucking the life out of the story.  Even on fast forward, it seemed to drag by.  A string of clichťs follows.  One prisoner gets free, shoots the bad guy in the head, then clubs him, but leaves the loaded gun beside his apparent corpse.  Guess what?  Heís back!  He chases them.  He wins.  Viewers lose.  7/4/07 

The Saint Meets the Tiger (1943)

 The Saint gets a mysterious phone call, promising a million pounds, but the man with the information is being tailed and he arrives fatally wounded.  He manages to say a few cryptic words before he dies.  Those words bring him to a remote village, which is also the headquarters of a criminal mastermind known as the Tiger. He also learns that thereís a connection between the dead man and a major bank robbery.  After refusing to cooperate with Inspector Teal, he tracks down the stolen gold himself.  It was going to be planted in a worthless gold mine and then sold openly.  He brazenly, and rather stupidly, confronts the gang in their lair and only escapes death when the Tiger calls and orders him released, believing that heíll be more trouble dead than alive.   

Sinclairís odd mannerisms seem more suited to Doctor Who than the Saint, and heís decidedly less clever this time around.  He still refuses to let Teal into the loop, but vows to reveal the true identity of the Tiger (whom we all know is the freelance photographer).  Then the local authorities show up to arrest him on a trumped up charge of burglary, but the Saint takes his way out of it.  The climax aboard a yacht is pretty nifty, but mostly because of the supporting cast. 7/4/07

The Saintís Vacation (1941) 

Hugh Sinclair takes over as the Saint for the first of two movies heíd contribute to the series.  Maybe itís because Iím comparing him to George Sanders, but he doesnít look the part, and certainly doesnít have the same presence on the screen.  He seems diffident, casual, even awkward at times.  While ostensibly on a vacation, he sees an old acquaintance who refuses to acknowledge him, which eventually leads to more mysterious events, and his rescue of a man from three assailants.  The comic relief if too pervasive as well, and more slapstick than witty. 

The man they rescued is murdered under their noses, but not before they have relieved him of an ornate music box, which gets stolen, then stolen back, after a plot involving running gun battles and secret passages.  Plenty of reversals and dirty tricks follow, but the Saintís apparent defeat of the master criminal and escape to England is a little too easy and anticlimactic.  The music box, by the way, prints out a code which is key to a technological discovery.  What such elaborate methods were required is never explained.  Itís an okay adventure story, but doesnít feel at all like the Saint. 7/3/07

Hideaway (1999) 

Dean Koontzís work hasnít fared well in Hollywood with the exception of the made for television movie, Intensity.  This one has a good cast and opens well, with a creepy sequence about a young serial killer who commits suicide.  Then Jeff Goldblum and his family are in a fairly spectacular accident while traveling, after which he is clinically dead for a couple of hours before being revived.  Although he seems to be normal at first, he has a nightmare about killing a teenager, and then sees her picture in the papers a few days later, reported missing.  Yup, youíve got it.  He is now mentally linked with a serial killer and sees things through his eyes. 

Unfortunately, some portion of the link works in the opposite direction.  Shortly after he observes the second killing (and the murderer is indeed the kid from the prologue), the murderer gets a glimpse of Goldblumís daughter.  He tries to call the police, but the body isnít where he thought it should be.  Oddly enough, though well acted and fast moving, the story is uninvolving.  Goldblumís character might be pardoned his occasionally irrational impulses, but his wife over reacts, his daughter under reacts when sheís approached by the creepy killer.  With none of the characters acting familiarly, there arises a sense of distance between the viewer and the film.  I could feel myself pushed over a threshold during the scene in which Goldblum brings home an armful of guns to sprinkle around the house.  I was just waiting for it to end after that, and the dueling light show between good and evil at the climax wasnít even pretty. 7/1/07 

The Saint in Palm Springs (1941) 

Sanders and company return, this time in California.  Upon arriving, he find himself recruited by Inspector Fernack to help an old friend who is trying to transport three stamps, each worth $65,000 each (which is a bit fantastic in itself since no stamps of that value existed during the 1940s).  Before Templar can take charge of the stamps, the owner is murdered, but he finds the stamps and undertakes the task of delivering him to the heir. 

Shortly after he boards a train, a woman searches his cabin.  He avoids being robbed, then and later when he is attacked in his room, but when he finally tries to make the delivery, the locket that contained the stamps is empty.  This isnít entirely surprising, given his very unwise habit of announcing what heís carrying.  Thereís not much mystery about who at least one of the thieves is, but there are a couple of reversals before things work themselves out.  Even the Saint admits that he is mystified by the turn of events.    The usual doublecrosses, tricks, and subterfuges follow in reasonably good form before the Saint discovers that he has two opponents, a ruthless gang of thieves, and an equally determined woman working alone.  They are turned against one another, and thereís a nice bit where the Saint avoids being drugged, but the resolution is too artificial and improbable.  A respectable but undistinguished entry in the series. 7/1/07

The Forgotten (2004)

 Julianne Moore heads up a pretty good cast in this unlikely mystery thriller.  She plays a woman who has been struggling to get over the loss of her nine year old son Sam, who is eventually told by her doctor and her husband that there never was any son.  Itís all just a figment of her imagination.  Sounds remotely plausible until she meets the father of one of Samís friends, who has forgotten his own daughter until she manages to awaken buried memories.  Just what is happening here, and who is behind it?

All of her pictures of Sam are missing or, apparently, altered to edit him out.  If itís a conspiracy, itís a far reaching one, because when she goes to the library and looks at microfilmed newspapers, she is still unable to confirm that her son was lost on a tragic plane crash, and her friends donít remember him either.  When she is arrested, an agent of the National Security Agency takes custody, but her new friend helps her get free. We move even father into X-Files territory when she sees a brief, weird cloud formation.   

While in hiding, they are attacked and chased by a group of people, although it is not clear who they are or whether they are actually hostile.  Moore has been theorizing that alien abduction is involved and that the children arenít really dead.  The chase scenes are visually nice, but I was already beginning to wonder how the NSA and this new group were able to locate them so quickly.  The following morning, still more people are after them and they have to run one man down in order to escape, but she has also managed to plant doubts in the mind of one police detective. 

Moore confronts her husband, who now has had his memories of her erased as well.  The contact is witnessed by yet more mysterious characters.  Another very public chase follows, after which we discover that the man they ran over calmly got up and walked away.  The set-up has been pretty good so far, but weíve reached the point where we need some answers.  Mooreís psychiatrist is also trying to get involved in the police investigation, but it is not clear just whose agenda he is trying to promote. 

The fugitives manage to capture an NSA man and admits that the government is covering up the abductions.  Thatís pretty much what I expected, except that I find it hard to believe that a field operative would have so much explicit information about what was going on behind the scenes.  At that point, some mysterious force destroys the building they were in and carries off their prisoner.  Why not them?  Clearly itís the we-are-property plot, but an omniscient power seems notably lacking in omnipotence.    Or even regular old potence.   The twosome track down the address of the former manager of the small airline whose planet supposedly crashed.  The apparently invulnerable man follows them there, but the house is deserted. 

Things deteriorate toward the end.  The police detective shows up to make the arrest with just the psychiatrist, which makes no sense, and repeatedly shoots the invulnerable man, whose bullet wounds immediately heal.  The detective is convinced, and promptly snatched into the sky.  The aliens are just too powerful to be overcome, which makes their struggle meaningless, and the conclusion Ė in which everything is restored to the way it was before Ė is a copout. Good job by the cast in a failed effort. 7/1/07

The Saint Takes Over (1940) 

George Sanders and Jonathan Hale are back again.  After breaking up a crooked bridge game, the Saint discovers that his old friend Inspector Fermack (Hale) has been disgraced, accused of taking bribes and removed from the police force.  He decides to intercede on his friendís behalf.  The crooks who have arranged the frame are divided among themselves, however, which helps make the Saintís job a little easier this time. One criminal tries to burgle a second, gets caught and turned, but the man who caught is murdered moments later, his body discovered by an illegally prowling Fernack, who is in turn surprised by the equally trespassing Saint.  This sounds confusing but is perfectly clear on the screen. 

Their efforts to track down the killer and clear Fernack lead to another dead body.  Someone is eliminating the members of the criminal conspiracy one by one.  Our heroes kidnap one of the survivors, who is killed right under their noses.  Eventually Fermack gets arrested for the murders, although the real killer has been painfully obvious from the outset.  This one wasnít based on one of Charterisí original stories, but it still comes out pretty well. 7/1/07